The Indian general elections are in full swing at the moment with the results due to be announced on the 23rd of May 2019. This election is key to India’s future as it determines the direction of Indian politics especially regarding deep-rooted issues such as religious communalism, agrarian distress, terrorism and corruption. The two major frontrunners for the prime minister post are Rahul Gandhi of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and India’s current prime minister Narendra Modi of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) who is seeking a second consecutive term. In this article, I seek to break down some background information important to understanding current issues of Indian politics and part 2 of this article will elaborate on the current issues themselves.
India received its independence on 15 August 1947, ending several decades of British rule in India. However, it wasn’t just India receiving independence now was it? Under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan legally became an independent country on the same day as India received her independence. Jinnah became the first governor-general of Pakistan and Jawaharlal Nehru became India’s first prime minister with the Indian National Congress (INC or congress as it is referred to) party in a landslide victory in 1952. Nehru is a respected figure in Indian politics because he was an integral member of the Indian independence struggle and worked alongside India’s father of the nation – Mahatma Gandhi. He was one of the big reasons the congress rose to prominence for the next 50 years of Indian politics. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv Gandhi were all prime ministers of India. Nehru’s great-grandson Rahul Gandhi is the current prime ministerial candidate from the congress. Therefore, it is safe to say that the Nehru family has greatly influenced Indian politics. It is also important to grasp this aspect carefully because the dynastic politics of the Congress is one of the reasons leading to their decline in present-day India.
The Congress party identifies itself as left of central and emphasizes on helping the lower and middle classes of India, developing the agrarian economy, facilitating wealth redistribution through more socialist policies, and uplifting minority groups [READ MORE]. Since the Indian National Congress was the first political party in India and was formed during the Indian independence struggle, a lot of consensus about what its policies would look like was formed before the constitution was ratified.
The Bhartiya Janatha Party (BJP) is the other major political party of India which rose to prominence in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It leans more to the right and believes in capitalistic policies. The BJP is a strong believer of Hindutva which is often misunderstood as making India a Hindu nation. Hindutva in this context means to engage in positive secularism where no ethnic group or religion is given more importance than the other. While forming the constitution in 1950, Dr. BR Ambedkar introduced several laws such as political and educational quotas and reservation of seats to protect minorities in India. BJP believes that every Indian should be treated equally and is against this concept of reservations. BJP has strong links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) whose former member was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore, the concept of Hindutva has often become the breeding ground for establishing Hindu hegemony in the country. The RSS has often been associated with violent communal riots and rallies which has increased the paranoia among minority groups as time has passed. This has therefore been a common criticism especially of the urban voters against the BJP. The congress pander to these sections of the society more which is why they have a minority vote base against the BJP’s predominantly Hindu vote base. Therefore, in every way BJP is the pole opposite of the Congress both in terms of historical roots and ideologies.
Now that I have explained briefly the history of the political landscape of India, some deep-rooted issues in India are:
Following the partition of India and Pakistan there was a large population of Muslims remaining in India. This led to large-scale communal violence between the different religious groups of India (Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims primarily). Meanwhile, consequences of the partition such as border disputes began to crop up resulting in a series of Indo-Pakistani wars. The northernmost state of India, Jammu and Kashmir borders both India and Pakistan and post-partition Pakistan attacked the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir resulting in the first Indo-Pak war in 1949. The result of this was creating the line of control (de facto border) and a division of the state between India (2/3rd) and Pakistan (1/3rd). The part occupied by Kashmir came to be known as Azad Kashmir or Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). The second Indo-Pak conflict was in 1971, when Bangladesh (known as East Pakistan at the time) claimed independence from the state-system of Pakistan with the help of India. This war ended with Pakistan surrendering and Bangladesh becoming a separate country. Finally, the Kargil war in 1999, was a period of high hostility between India and Pakistan. A few Pakistani troops crossed the line of control and occupied the Indian district of Kargil. The result was India regaining possession of Kargil and the strengthening of India’s economy due to military spending. Since then, India has received a series of attacks from Pakistani-based terrorist groups including the most recent ones at Uri (2016) and Pulwama (2018). These conflicts mostly revolve around the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. These conflicts require strong leadership from the Indian government as both India and Pakistan possess nuclear arms and extremely powerful militaries. Foreign policy and international diplomacy always play a key role in elections in India.
Here’s a story to lighten the mood a little bit:
Note: This is a real-life story, but with several changes in details due to a lack of knowledge of the specificities in the story.
My apartment was situated in the south of Bangalore and was one of the first major apartment complex in the area. Our garbage was collected by an agency for Rupees 30 per flat and there were hundreds of them. One day, a local mafia of sorts came into the area and forcefully drove out the existing garbage collectors and began charging 10 times the original (Rupees 300) per flat. Police complaints would not work because this mafia had bribed half of them to help maintain their business and getting the local politician to help us was unrealistic as – many of them did not care or they might be in bed with this group too. To this day I do not know if the issue was ever solved.
When we think of corruption in India, we think of the Coal allocation scam or the 2G case which led to billions of dollars of losses. However, the real issue is that corruption happens at such small levels in India. If you are over-speeding, just bribe a traffic police and save yourself from a ticket or if you are selling your house then take half the selling price in paper currency to avoid paying taxes. This is why solving the issue of corruption in India is an uphill battle. It is safe to hypothesize that every Indian has engaged in an illegal transaction at least once in their lives. Tracing corruption up to such small levels is nearly impossible but that does not mean we can get as close as possible.
It was under the Congress government that major corruption scandals occurred such as the Coal allocation scam which led to 1.8 trillion rupees ($27 billion) in illegal gains to the government. The main reason for the downward spiral of the Congress party was several scams such as this; amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars in black money that could have been otherwise used for the development of India.
India has one of the most complex political landscapes in the world and explaining every single aspect of India’s political history would take a lifetime! However, I have attempted to give you a dip in the ocean that is Indian politics. In the next part of this article, I will explain the 2019 election situation and the results since it will be out by then.